WARREN COUNTY, Va. (WDVM) — It was June 26, 1998, when firefighters responded to a house fire in the Shenandoah Farms area of Warren County.
It seemed to be a typical call, but as the flames were extinguished and fire crews were able to get inside the single-story home, they discovered a woman’s body near the front door.
But the mystery began as an autopsy revealed Carol Gordon, 41, had not died as a result of the fire. She had been shot five times from behind, gunshots likely inflicted as she ran from her killer, who then set the house on fire to hide the evidence.
Gordon, a nurse who worked at an OBGYN office in Northern Virginia, lived alone in the Shenandoah Farms home but was close with her family, including her two adult daughters. Gordon’s sister Mary Tarman says the entire family used to get together weekly at Gordon’s mother’s house, also in Warren County. Tarman described her sister as warm and loyal.
“If she loved you, she loved you fierce,” Tarman said in a phone interview. “I feel a little guilty because I know if this had happened to me, she would have moved heaven and earth to get the person who did it.”
In the 21 years since Gordon’s murder, no one has ever been charged.
Captain Gordon Foster of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office took over the case several years after the initial investigation and says every lead that came into the office was thoroughly investigated. But Gordon’s family has its doubts, and family members like Mary Tarman, Gordon’s younger sister, remains critical of investigators.
“From the moment she died, the police department screwed the whole thing up,” Tarman said.
She says initially the family was told Gordon took her own life – something they just couldn’t believe.
“My sister would not have committed suicide by burning her house down and not leaving anything for her children,” Tarman said.
Foster says he doesn’t have a record of Tarman’s claims and he cannot corroborate them, given the original investigators are no longer with the Sheriff’s Office. But he does sympathize with the family and says he hears their concerns.
“Being heavily involved in the case, I can completely understand and hold a lot of compassion for the family,” Foster said. “I can see their diminishing hopes as the years have passed.”
Deputies ruled out suicide over the course of the initial investigation, determining Gordon was shot from behind with Black Talon bullets–a controversial type of hollow-point ammunition–and some form of accelerant was used in the fire. Additional evidence was submitted to the Northern Virginia Forensic Science Laboratory in Manassas, Va., in the hopes that one day new techniques developed could find clues investigators initially missed.
Over the years, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office worked with a number of agencies, including the Virginia State Police and later the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Foster says his team considered a number of suspects over the years, including a neighbor who Gordon had briefly dated.
According to Gordon’s daughter Nicky Bailey, the relationship was not serious and the two broke up shortly before Gordon’s death. Bailey said her father and her mother began to date again after her mother broke up with the neighbor, and she wonders if that fueled the killer’s motive.
“I have to think that there’s the possibility also of besides just being jealous and upset that my mother didn’t want to have more of a relationship with them or continue whatever relationship they had,” said Bailey. “The fact that she started dating someone else.”
Bailey is holding out hope that her mother’s killer can be brought to justice and give her and her family answers to the questions they’ve had for so long.
“Why did it have to be so violent? Why did you have to destroy everything?” she said. “We have nothing to remember her by. We had nothing. We couldn’t take a shirt and smell her. We couldn’t take pictures, we couldn’t carry her purse. We were left without a mother and without any physical memories of her which just makes it even harder.”
Gordon’s family is offering a $10,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest. Tips can be submitted to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office by clicking here or by contacting Captain Gordon Foster at 540-635-4128.